A fecal transplant is when a doctor transplants feces from a healthy donor into another person to restore the balance of bacteria in their gut. Fecal transplants may help treat gastrointestinal infections and other conditions.
The digestive system depends on beneficial bacteria to absorb nutrients and digest food efficiently, but some medical conditions and antibiotics can destroy these good bacteria. A fecal transplant is one way to reintroduce them.
Other names for a fecal transplant include bacteriotherapy and fecal microbiota transplantation (FMT).
In this article, learn how fecal transplants work and which conditions they can treat. We also cover the possible risks of this procedure.
A fecal transplant from a healthy donor encourages the recipient’s body to grow healthful bacteria, which can cure some infections and reduce the severity of certain gut health problems.
The gut is home to a delicate balance of millions of bacteria. When these bacteria become unbalanced, a person can develop diarrhea and other intestinal problems.
In some cases, the antibiotics that treat infections in the gut also kill off helpful bacteria. For example,
A doctor will carefully screen fecal transplant donors to ensure that their gut and feces are healthy. They will test them for various diseases, such as hepatitis.
In most cases, a doctor will deliver the donor feces to the recipient through a colonoscope. A colonoscope is a small, flexible tube that they can insert into the colon through the rectum. People usually take sedative drugs before the procedure, so they will not feel any pain or discomfort.
Another approach involves injecting liquid feces via an enema rather than using a colonoscope.
Fecal transplants originated in ancient Chinese medicine
Doctors primarily use fecal transplants to treat C. difficile-associated disease (CDAD). In the United States, CDAD kills
Research consistently finds that fecal transplants are highly effective in treating this dangerous condition.
In a small-scale
Doctors may also recommend fecal transplants to manage other gastrointestinal conditions. For instance, problems with gut bacteria may cause or worsen inflammatory bowel disease (IBD).
Researchers have found that fecal transplants may help treat IBD, though their effectiveness varies among studies. A
Fecal transplants may also help with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), a poorly understood condition that causes a wide range of digestive problems.
Research on fecal transplants for this condition is still in its infancy, but the authors of the above review
Research on the wider effects of gut bacteria is still developing, but if gut health does affect overall health, fecal transplants could eventually treat a variety of conditions.
The authors of
- chronic fatigue syndrome
- mood disorders, such as depression
- nonalcoholic fatty liver disease
- hay fever
Most studies suggest that fecal transplants are safe, especially when the sample comes from a healthy, thoroughly vetted donor.
Doctors know less about the long-term safety of fecal transplants.
However, a recent fatality due to a severe, antibiotic-resistant infection developing after FMT has led to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration suspending all clinical trials that use the transplant.
They have issued an
Taking antibiotics after a fecal transplant may cause complications, so it is important to tell the doctor about any current medications and antibiotics. Likewise, a person should mention a recent fecal transplant if they are receiving antibiotics for an infection.
Although research has shown fecal transplants to be safe, many people feel anxious about the procedure.
Some worry that it is unsafe or dirty to transplant someone else’s feces into their body. However, people with chronic or life-threatening medical conditions may find that they can overlook the “yuck” factor.
- being female
- previous hospitalization
- recent surgery before the transplant
It can be difficult to access fecal transplants, especially for conditions other than CDAD.
Some people and a handful of natural health advocates suggest performing home fecal transplants by taking a pill or enema of feces from a healthy donor. However, no research supports doing fecal transplants at home, and there is no evidence that it is safe.
Without proper screening, a donor could transmit serious and potentially lethal diseases.
The idea of accepting feces from a healthy donor might seem peculiar, but the science supporting fecal transplants is becoming increasingly mainstream.
When other treatments fail, this innovative procedure may naturally restore the gut’s health, allowing beneficial bacteria to grow, fight infection, and improve a person’s health.
Not all doctors are knowledgeable about fecal transplants, so it is important to see an expert with sufficient experience of performing this procedure.